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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 8, 2009
Firefighters’ fund-raiser a thorny issue: Local florists are hurt
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND Local, independently-owned florists in Guilderland are worried that the Guilderland Fire Department’s annual Valentine’s Day fund-raiser is going to put them out of business.
For the past three years, the Guilderland Fire Department, staffed by volunteers, has sold roses at a reduced cost for three days leading up to the holiday, and florists say their sales for that period have been down as much as 80 percent.
Jean Simmons, who owns Classica Florist on Western Avenue, said she is afraid that if the fire department holds the same fund-raiser again next year, she will be forced to close her doors.
“Valentine’s Day is typically our money-maker. It’s what gets us through the summer until Thanksgiving,” said Simmons.
Chuck Meyers, director of fund-raising for the Guilderland Fire Department, told The Enterprise that the department did not want to step on anyone’s toes or hurt local business. The Valentine’s Day rose sale is a supplemental fund-raiser, which is done in addition to the department’s annual fund drive, said Meyers.
According to Meyers, the money from the sale of roses is used to make purchases that the fire district, which levies taxes, does not pay for. According to the 2009 town budget, the Guilderland Fire District was allotted $48,000. He declined to name the amount the fire department raised by selling roses, but said that parade gear, open houses, and the puppet shows the department put on at this year’s Altamont Fair are examples of what the funds go toward.
“The town is trying to bring small businesses in, and here they are about to shut me down. I’m sure most florists don’t want to play fireman for a day, so why does the fire department want to play florist?” Simmons asked.
Simmons grew up in the business; her mother owned a florist shop.
“This is something I’ve known for a long time. I never imagined I’d be in competition with a fire department,” she said.
According to Simmons, whose son is a member of the Guilderland Fire Department, the department sold 36,000 roses last year, while she struggled to sell 700, and had to throw away the other 500 she had ordered. Calculating the average price of a dozen roses at local flower shops, Simmons said, 36,000 roses sold would net $150,000. Essentially, the fire department fund-raiser resulted in a $150,000 loss for local businesses, she said.
In an attempt to resolve the issue, Simmons wrote a letter to the department on Sept. 3, explaining the large hit her sales were taking as a result of its February fund-raiser, and asking the department to reconsider for 2010. She wrote that she was not asking it to give up fund-raising, but thought there might be a different fund-raiser to consider.
Simmons said that, according to her son, the department had a vote after receiving her letter, and decided to go ahead with the fund-raiser for another year, even after some of her regular customers wrote letters to the department saying they would not donate to any department fund-raiser in the future if the rose sales continued.
Another problem the fund-raiser creates is a misconception of the rose, said Simmons. People buying roses through the fire department were getting flowers shipped from Miami, that were not refrigerated for a week, were full of thorns, and died in two days, she said.
“No one wants to buy roses after that experience,” said Simmons.
Cathy Kodra, a wholesaler from East Berne, provides Classica Florist with its roses. She said the fire department’s sale of roses had a “domino effect” on the floral business.
“If Jean goes out of business, then I lose one of my biggest customers,” Kodra said.
The wholesaler said she also wrote a letter to the fire department, asking why it had to do that type of fund-raiser. Kodra said she also wondered if the general public would still buy the roses and donate if they knew the effect it was having on local business.
Another area shop, A Touch of Country located in the 20 Mall, is also feeling the detrimental effects. Steve Irwin and his wife, Sue, have been working there for 17 years, and said in the past three years they noticed a sharp drop-off in sales around Valentine’s Day.
“It has directly effected us because we are within arm’s reach of the department,” Irwin said.
One of the main reasons the fund-raiser has affected so many local businesses is the advertising for it every year, according to Irwin. The department puts up signs all along Route 20, including right in front of the 20 Mall, where A Touch of Country is located.
Irwin said he had contacted the fire department directly and made it aware of the impact on his business; he got an apologetic response, but did not sense a willingness to change, he said.
“Valentine’s Day has always been a significant holiday to get us through the first quarter, and now there is nothing there,” said Irwin. “This has damaged our industry beyond repair in the area. There is no way to re-coup the clientele we’ve lost.”
In an attempt to come to a compromise, Meyers visited Simmons in her shop and asked if she would be willing to consider selling the fire department vases to use for the February rose sale. Simmons said she thought about the offer, but realized that the money she would make by selling vases would not come close to making up the thousands of dollars her business would be losing from the lack of flower sales on Valentine’s Day.
“I also felt that accepting the compromise would be doing a disservice to other local shops,” Simmons said. “I would be the traitor.”
Simmons said she had considered closing her doors at the end of the year if the fire department went ahead with their rose sale in 2010, but she has decided to try to keep her business afloat for one more year.
“I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” Simmons said, adding that she wanted to raise public awareness, and hopes that her sales around Valentine’s day 2010 won’t tank as badly as the sales in 2009.